T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

This is a post linked to my forthcoming book The Return of Twin Peaks: Squaring the Circle, designed to function in the same transmedia manner that the series adopts with the books by Mark Frost, Scott Frost, Jennifer Lynch, and others. This text will not appear in the book itself.

T.S. Eliot’s book Four Quartets appears visible above the fireplace during Audrey Horne’s first scene in The Return.

The first poem, Burnt Norton, begins in a rose garden reminiscent of Eliot’s childhood and the Garden of Eden, adorned with a pool and the sound of birds, just as the season begins with Cooper in the Red Room. This accompanies my interpretation in UTP of the Red Room as a Temenos, a secret rose garden containing water, where the process of individuation takes place. The first section of the poem opens with the following strophe, which resonates with MIKE’s question to Cooper “Is it future or is it past?”:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable. (p. 11)

The second section of Burnt Norton continues with a description that might very well apply to the Evolution of the Arm:

The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree (p. 12-13)

The tree becomes a manifestation of the axle tree (axis of the world or Tree of Life), at the still point of the turning world. The fact that Cooper is somehow split between the Red Room and his avatar in the Twin Peaks world (see the superimposition that takes place in the Sheriff’s office in part 17) echoes a process of self-examination (individuation) that is externalized outside the body. Kenneth Paul Kramer describes this in Eliot:

In composition of place in Burnt Norton, self-examination takes the form of interior mindfulness pictured in exterior scenery, a pattern that is repeated throughout Four Quartets. Here the poet moves from a description of the external landscape to an internally oriented expression of the contemplative truths that it reveals (Redeeming Time, p.46).

Since Kramer explains that “the third and central movement of each quartet evokes a descending-ascending spiritual practice, oriented toward redeeming moments of time” (Redeeming Time, p.52), it makes sense that Cooper’s fall through the liquid space below the Red Room evokes the following passage:

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation (p. 15)

Kramer argues that “the central meaning of the poem is the idea that the way out is down and through” (p.53), towards an underground world. When Eliot describes the place in question

a place of disaffection… only a flicker Over the strained time-ridden faces Distracted from distraction by distraction Filled with fancies and empty of meaning (p. 14).

one is reminded of the Las Vegas Silver Mustang Casino where Cooper arrives at the end of part 3. Kramer goes on: “For Eliot, the soul’s descent into darkness, like Christ’s descent into the dark night of the tomb, unites the way up and the way down” (p.94).

Part 4 of The Return includes the image of a clematis flower that hangs on the wall beside Dougie’s head when he examines himself in his bedroom’s mirror. Burnt Norton’s fourth section includes the following question:

Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling? (p. 15-16)


Will the clematis stray down?

The statement in the fifth movement of Burnt Norton that

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight Even while the dust moves There rises the hidden laughter Of children in the foliage (p. 17).

is evocative of the way the young boy of the drugged-out mother peers through the blinds after Dougie’s car explodes.

In East Coker, the second poem of Four Quartets, Eliot returns to his ancestral home in England. He wrote the poem during a “truly dark age”, to quote Janey-E, in England during World War II. According to Kramer, whereas Burnt Norton focused on “the simultaneity of timelessness and the flux of time, here the poet turns his attention to the seemingly purposeless, repetitive cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. Nothing endures; everything changes “ (p.70). Part 6 of The Return certainly focuses on death, as it is the moment when Richard runs over a young boy at a crosswalk while Carl Rodd relaxes on a nearby park bench, echoing the first movement of the poem:

Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes (p. 21).


“You lean against a bank while a van passes”

Part 7 then brings us to the second movement of East Coker, and the lines

In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold
And menaced by monsters (p. 24).

Besides their association with Dante’s Divine Comedy[2], these verses recall the situation in Twin Peaks, when Andy tries his best to move the investigation forward. It almost goes without saying that the apocalyptic visions of part 8 resonate powerfully with the beginning of the poem’s third movement:

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant (p. 25).

This darkness is associated “with possibilities leading to moments of illumination” (p.86), which is indeed what takes place in The Return, as it is in part 8 that Laura makes her entrance into the world: “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing” (p. 26). The next movement similarly argues that “Our only health is the disease If we obey the dying nurse Whose constant care is not to please… to be restored, our sickness must grow worse” (p. 27) a statement somehow confirmed by Chantal’s nursing of the resurrected, blood-covered Double in part 9. Finally, the fifth movement reconciles the tensions developed during the quartet and argues that “There is a time for the evening under starlight” (p. 28), while Rebekah Del Rio sings in part 10 about being “under the starry night”.

The Dry Salvages, Eliot’s third quartet, takes the reader to landscapes from the poet’s childhood, along the Mississippi River and the coast of Massachusetts (the theme of this quartet is clearly water). The chronological flux of the river leads to a more primordial type of time, that of the ocean, akin to timelessness: “And under the oppression of the silent fog The tolling bell Measures time not our time… a time Older than the time of chronometers” (p. 34). The first movement’s description of the sea

the sea is all about us; The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses Its hints of earlier and other creation (p. 33).

resonates with the first appearance in The Return of the sky vortex (part 11), this abyssal maelstrom ready to swallow everyone into the sky ocean. When the quartet continues in its second movement with the following strophe

And the ragged rock in the restless waters,
Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it (p. 37).

It is echoed by Diane’s statement that she likes her drink “on the rocks”, in part 12. Krishna’s teachings about liberation in and from time follows in the third movement of the poem, and are mirrored in the 13th part of The Return when the Mitchum Brothers enter the Lucky 7 Insurance office mimicking a train, a scene corresponding to the following statement:

You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you (p. 38).

Once again, via non-attached action, “our ‘destination’ is not a place toward which we travel but a transformation of awareness occurring in the traveling itself” (p.123). In its constant inter-religiousness, this movement forward brings the poem from Krishna to the Virgin Mary: “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory… Figlia del tuo figlio, Queen of Heaven” (p. 39-40). Part 14 sees Sarah order a Bloody Mary in the bar before ripping the throat of a truck driver to pieces. She is associated with Mary as the mother who received the seed from the Fireman, the godlike entity in charge of the multiverse, leading to Laura’s birth. The Christ-like journey of her daughter[3] confirms her role as a corrupted Mary in The Return. The fifth and final movement of The Dry Salvages opens with the following words: “To communicate with Mars” (p. 40), something echoed by Chantal’s pointing at the night sky towards the glow of the solar system’s fourth planet.


Figlia del tuo figlio

The fourth and last quartet in Eliot’s book is entitled Little Gidding, a place of spiritual pilgrimage, and revolves around the fire element. There is something of a return to Heaven in the journey that drives the poet back to this church, a “dying to one’s time-conditioned identity” (p.147). It doesn’t take long for Richard to die in part 16, while in the first movement of the poem: “It would be the same at the end of the journey, If you came at night like a broken king… It would be the same, when you leave the rough road”. (p. 45-46). Mr. C then goes to Twin Peaks, where he meets his end, and can be associated with the “compound ghost” described by Eliot in the poem’s second movement. In Redeeming Time, Kramer states:

the ‘compound ghost’ is part other, part deep self, ‘a less tangible figure, one that has aspects of the etheric or astral double of the occultists, or even Mr. C as deep self or witness, the atman’… we are here dealing with an intimate self-confrontation (p.153).

In Little Gidding’s second movement one passage reads: “So I assumed a double part… I was still the same, Knowing myself yet being someone other” (p. 48). This confrontation leads to peregrine “between two worlds become much like each other”, as the passage now presents no hindrance To the spirit unappeased”, (p. 49) and Cooper can travel freely to the day of Laura’s death, between the worlds of life and death, a timeless moment. The series’ final episode corresponds to a movement of Eliot’s poem focusing on the right form of action, and follows Krishna’s viewpoint that “the key to actionless action lies in throwing off the delusion of an imaginary ‘ego’, of an ‘I’ who acts or does not act” (p.160). Although Cooper manages to summon a new version of the world where “they vanish, The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them, To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern” (Laura’s transfiguration as Carrie, for instance), he nonetheless remains attached to his desire to bring Laura back to her old self and her home (p. 51). The purification does not totally take place, blocked by Cooper’s hubris and attachment to the self (“You are Laura Palmer”). He doesn’t manage to be at home in the universe due to his lack of humility and his attachment to desires and sufferings. They remain trapped in the no man’s land between worlds that Twin Peaks has become.

[2] “Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood” (Inferno, Dante, Penguin Classics, p. 67).
[3] “The supreme archetype of the downward or negative way is the Passion, Death and Burial of Christ” (Kramer, p.236).

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